Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 17:47 UK

Intel: More than just chips

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Intel, the world's biggest maker of silicon chips wants everyone to know that it can do more than just make chips.

Even though this product makes billions for the business, Intel's chief technology officer and head of research Justin Ratner told the BBC that it wants to change the image people have of the company.

justin ratner
Intel is trying to change the way the public views the company

"The public perception of Intel as an innovator has been really limited to

'oh yeah there's that sticker on my pc and there is an Intel thing in there'.

"What we generally do is ubiquitous but most people aren't aware of how our inventions have changed the world."

And to drive the point home, the Silicon Valley company opened its doors to journalists to show off a myriad of projects that its researchers believe will go on to have an impact on our daily lives.

Over 70 projects ranging from healthcare to visual computing and from wireless mobility to the environment are just some of the areas where the company is investing part of its $6bn in research.

"The sampling of projects on display here, and the doubling of our R&D investment over the past 10 years, will speed scientific discovery, improve health care, better the environment, advance visual computing and bring a rich and wireless internet experience from the device of our choice anywhere in the world," boasts Mr Ratner.

INTELLIGENT PHOTO AND VIDEO SEARCH

Digital cameras have turned most of us into snap-happy photographers. The problem is we tend to upload the images onto the computer and leave them there in an untidy jumble. The same with video.

Intel's China Research Centre believes its intelligent photo and video search technology will help us organise our photo and video libraries into useful albums.

Lin Chao says the software they have developed "uses microprocessors to mine pictures and videos for common key factors.

face recognition
Researchers boast a 98% success rate in recognising people's faces

"The statistical algorithm is a probabilistic system that finds correlations between the different points of an image. The points can be mapped on animals, faces or cars, the key aspects of the concept. Then it will statistically go and classify these key points to see if they are relevantly correlated to each other," he says.

The easiest image to search for in pictures or video is a face.

The software finds the face in a picture, plots 68 points to work out face alignment and finally checks five major regions to show the forehead, eyes, eyebrows, nose and a mouth.

Then by identifying the image as, say, your mum or dad, the technology can rifle through your messy library and find matching pictures allowing you to group them together into neat easily accessible albums.

ADVANCED MEDICAL VISUALISATION

An estimated 655,000 people die of colon cancer throughout the world per year. But early detection and diagnosis can help save lives.

Intel has partnered with Phillips Healthcare in a joint project taking place in Haifa, Israel, to improve detection and diagnosis rates.

colon cancer
Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the Western world

At the research day, Zvi Danovich demonstrated a virtual colonoscopy application that shows an interactive model based on information from ct scans.

By optimising the image using nanometers and vectorisation, Mr Danovich was able to produce clearer and richer images faster than the old application.

"Our rendering runs almost twice as fast as the Phillips application showing double the number of frames per second," explained Mr Danovich.

"I am happy that this is my achievement to the world of medicine."

COMMON SENSE ENVIRONMENTAL SENSING

The power of the people is at the heart of a project aimed at influencing decision makers over environmental policy.

Armed with mobile sensing devices, members of the public can collect data about the air quality in their local area and feed it back to a central base to be collated.

Alison Woodruff of Common Sense says by kitting out ordinary people with these mobile devices, they are able to "empower the everyday citizen as well as provide useful information about air quality."

common sense environmental sensing
Using wireless sensors the public can monitor their local environment

She says typically such readings are taken by officials at a small number of locations and what Common Sense does is get a lot of readings from a lot of places.

This, claims Ms Woodruff, "makes the data more powerful."

At the moment the group is working with San Francisco street sweepers on a pilot project testing the device and working out how best to use the information that is gathered.

Ms Woodruff says the next stage is to "get the device into the hands of concerned citizens and develop community software so people can analyse the information and work out how to use it to influence policy".

For Intel, she says the value in the project is finding new and interesting applications for mobile devices.

RAY TRACING

Every day the quality of games are inching towards mirroring the real world. Ray tracing technology is one way Intel believes it can deliver a richer more rewarding experience than before.

The technology is already used in Hollywood most recently in the Kung Fu Panda movie, but researcher Daniel Pohl told the BBC: "Ray tracing in games is still a research project but it represents the next big thing."

Daniel phohl
This technique is used a lot in Hollywood, but not in gaming

Ray tracing works by using computational modelling to simulate light rays in a 3D scene.

What that means, says Mr Pohl, is that "You can add a lot of nice special effects like reflections on water or in a mirror, some of the hardest things to do in a game.

"We are moving towards photo realism and modelling how things work in nature. It's about making the game look more realistic and exciting."

He acknowledges however that the final product is several years away.

ROBOT BARKEEP

For years we have been served up the promise that robots in the home would become our little helpers. It hasn't happened but Intel researcher Siddhartha Srinivasa believes the so called robot barkeep he has been working on is a significant step towards that goal.

Using motion planning and manipulation algorithms as well as cameras, the robotic arm on display picked up black mugs and put them on a dishwasher rack.

robotic arm
Robots that make coffee and do the laundry are at least ten years away

A fairly simple action, but from a robotics standpoint very complicated to achieve. Mr Srinivasa told the BBC: "This is the cutting edge of robotics research designing a robotic arm that can move at human speeds.

"The arm doesn't know where the mug is so it has to search for it, then it has to work out how to pick it up and then how to place it on the rack without colliding with anyone or anything."

It might not be Earth shattering but Mr Srinivasa says it hints at what is possible tomorrow.

"We want to free robots from the factory floor and bring them into people's homes. Versatility is key. We envisage robots being able to do the dishes, put the toys away, make a cup of coffee and be a real help around the house."

MOOD PHONE

Everybody copes with the stresses and strains of the day in different ways. But now Intel researcher and psychologist Margaret Morris has developed what she calls the mood phone to help deal with the highs and lows and keep us mentally healthy.

Ms Morris, who is a psychologist, says: "We translated clinical dialogues into touch screen experiences on your mobile phone as prompts to make you check how you are feeling."

This, Ms Morris says, is all aimed at "enabling people to tune into early signs of distress before they end up screaming".

There are she says physiological signs of stress like a drop in heart rate variability and changes in blood pressure which can be detected by the phone.

mood phone
The 'mood phone' will contact you to ask how you are feeling

When any of these change, the phone can be programmed to ping you a message and simply ask if you are alright. It can also suggest coping strategies like doing some breathing exercises or taking a walk.

The aim is to stop you in your tracks for a few seconds and force you to listen to what is going on inside your head and your body.

Ms Woodruff says the project is "about helping people become saner, healthier and happier human beings."

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